Local | Mind, Body & Spirit

Rare illness, reconstruction and unwavering faith bring Israeli to Tucson

Yael Schwob
Yael Schwob

Yael Schwob, 21, of Rekhasim, Israel, suffers from arteriovenous malformation (AVM), a rare congenital disease that can cause severe bleeding episodes. The condition is difficult to treat and can be fatal. Yael’s AVM has manifested on her face, disfiguring her extensively. She and her father, Rabbi Yaakov Schwob, are currently living in Tucson where Yael is undergoing a series of treatments from Dr. Frederick Mennick, who is reconstructing her nose.

“I have found my acquaintance with the Schwobs to be most inspiring,” Rabbi Israel Becker of Congregation Chofetz Chayim wrote in a recent message to the AJP. “It’s a story of parental challenge, family love, courage and persistence.”

When Yael was 12, AVM destroyed so much tissue on her face that doctors were forced to remove her nose. A medical team fashioned a silicone nose for her, but the continued, destructive effects of the AVM later forced doctors to remove the prosthesis altogether when she was 17. Yael’s father has dedicated himself to finding a medical solution that will restore his daughter’s face.

Yael has endured more than 45 operations in clinics all over the world, says her father. The Schwobs first came to Tucson at the beginning of 2013 to meet with Mennick. “We wanted to consult with Dr. Mennick,” says Schwob, “because we were told that he wrote the definitive medical text on nasal reconstruction. We especially liked his ‘team approach’ where specialists would treat the AVM while Dr. Mennick advanced with the nasal reconstruction.” The Schwobs are grateful to have found a doctor they believe in as well as a welcoming home where they could reside while Yael goes through the long series of treatments. Rabbi Becker and his wife Esther have been hosting the Schwobs while they are in Tucson.

Yael is the oldest daughter in a family of 12 children, so separation from her mother and siblings has been challenging for her and her father. Schwob says their medical insurance did not at first consider Yael’s condition to be a medical one and declined their claims. Travel expenses for Yael’s treatment have weighed heavily. Schwob writes that through it all, their faith never wavered as more and more agencies and people have come to their aid. The Israeli nonprofit, Ezra LeMarpeh, which helps pair people in need of medical treatment with doctors and resources around the world, pointed the Schwobs to Tucson as the agency knew of Mennick’s successful reconstructive surgery on Israeli soldier Aaron Karov (see https://azjewishpost.com/2010/wounded-days-after-nuptials-israeli-soldier-gets-plastic-surgery-in-tucson/).

“Rav Becker and Esther help us a lot — with everything we need and especially with emotional support,” says Yael, who is perennially cheerful despite the discomfort and disfigurement she endures. She hopes that once her medical treatments are over her life will change so that she will be able to get married and have her own home. Asked what has been unexpected in her journeys and challenges, Yael says that her condition has broadened her experience and given her friends all over the world. “Yeah, I’m in pain sometimes,” she says in slightly accented English, “but it’s OK ’cause it’s all for the best.”

Renee Claire is a freelance writer in Tucson.